The other day I found myself in an awkward position. I was witness to a group of people reacting to a photo of an unsuspecting person online. They were commenting on how this person looked and I was uncomfortable with it. It was out of context for the forum it had been posted in and I’m never happy when there’s a lot of focus on how someone looks. I firmly believe everyone deserves respect and shouldn’t be objectified.
It started off quite mildly in comparison to how many recent conversations of objectification of people in the media have been, especially those relating to a certain presidential candidate. So at first, I was uncomfortable, but decided not to say anything. Then it got worse, with a photo posted of the unsuspecting person in their swimsuit and more responses about how “hot” they were, how they (the people commenting) were single & interested and lots of tagging other people to come have a look.
Surprisingly, the person being treated this way was a man and the majority of people commenting were female.
I’m fully aware that the #notallmen and “men get objectified too” cries from privileged males is a form of deflection and denial when women speak up about how they are treated. Women are sexualised from an early age, treated like objects and every woman has been verbally or physically abused by a man in her lifetime. It’s absolutely not ok and no amount of shouts of “us too” makes up for how women are treated. It’s a horrible problem with how society views and demeans women and it has to stop.
But I am also uncomfortable with women acting as though it’s somehow permissible to treat men this way too. I think equality means everyone deserves respect and women behaving in this manner damages the movement towards a society where people treat each other better.
So I spoke up. And it went like this…
I was appalled. The replies from the women were the same kinds of things you hear from men to justify their absurd behaviour. They had taken a photo without consent, posted it for comment without the man’s knowledge and defended themselves by saying it was a compliment. They even went as far as to call me, and the other people who had politely voiced our concern, “boring”. I couldn’t believe it. I had expected better.
Interestingly, the original photo poster (in grey) was at least aware her first reply (where she called me “boring”) was more than a bit inappropriate. It actually read like this:
“If he didn’t want his photo taken by a drooling woman (or many), he should have worn a panda suit.”
Just take a moment and switch the pronouns:
“If she didn’t want her photo taken by a drooling man (or many), she should have worn a panda suit.”
Sound familiar? Slut shaming and victim blaming are the phrases that come to mind. For me, it’s not ok to treat anyone this way and we need to speak up more about it. Women are far more often the target of this kind of abuse but that doesn’t make it OK to treat men this way either. If we behave that way it somehow makes it acceptable for others to. We need to step up and ask for better.
It can feel lonely when you take a stand. I don’t like conflict and tend to avoid it but when things are so obviously wrong, I recognise the need to use my voice. Our voices have power. So do our actions. We make decisions every day about how we want to behave, what we will stay silent about and what we will allow to continue.
When I started my photography journey I was painfully aware of how easy it is to turn people in to objects and the pressure to make people “look good”was enormous. Unattainable beauty standards have shaped what the majority of people find attractive and we’re taught to look for certain physical traits from an early age. As photographers we’re asked to edit people to make them thinner, smooth their skin and get rid of flaws, add cleavage, add toned muscles and even make them taller.
This was something that made me uncomfortable about this industry. Please don’t misunderstand me, I love photography but I think we have a responsibility to help change the way people see beauty and to move away from the idea that there is one standard form of beauty or attractiveness to aspire to.
My #RealGirlsRealBeauty project is something I started last year with this very aim. To encourage people to recognise that their own beauty lies in something much more important than physical appearance, but in who they are and what they love and makes them happy.
Even though taking a stand can be lonely at times, I will keep doing it, whether it means speaking up when something I disagree with is happening, asking questions that people sometimes find difficult or reaching people through my mission-driven photography projects.
And as for being “boring”? My good friend Katy recently reminded me that “Standing up against injustice is never boring.”